What is the difference between a barrister and solicitor?

The basic way to define the difference between barristers and solicitors is that a barrister mainly defends people in court, publicly speaking as an advocate on their behalf, whereas a solicitor primarily performs legal work that takes place outside of the courtroom.  There are, however, exceptions to this rule which we will explore further. 


When people talk about going to see their lawyer, it is usually a solicitor that they will contact. Solicitors can work for a big range of organisations, including commercial or non-commercial law firms, the government and so on. They have specialist knowledge of different areas of the law such as family, immigration and asylum law, civil litigation law and personal injury law.

Most of the time, solicitors advise clients, undertake negotiations and draft legal documents. It is primarily a desk job but does involve travelling to see clients and representing them in court.

Solicitors will often work directly with clients, providing them with day-to-day advice on their legal rights and obligations. Solicitors have automatic rights of audience in the magistrates’ courts, youth courts and county courts, as well as in tribunals. Among other things, a solicitor can:

Engage in litigation, hold client money, have lay clients, administer wills, convey property, hold positions within companies and hold positions within companies.

Barristers, on the other hand, are typically brought in by solicitors when a case needs to be argued in court. Because of this difference in role, barristers tend to have more specialised knowledge of the law than solicitors, and solicitors can seek out barristers with specialist practices to represent their clients in niche legal cases.

However, the general public is more than welcome to contact a Barristers Chamber directly in relation to potential and existing cases should they wish. 

Traditionally, one of the fundamental differences between solicitors and barristers is that solicitors were employed by firms, while barristers were usually self-employed. This structural difference led to a number of different working arrangements and relationships between the two groups but as the legal profession has evolved, barristers are now permitted to be employed by solicitor’s firms and obtain further qualifications, which allow them to be instructed directly by lay clients. They still however, are not permitted to hold client money or convey property


Barristers specialise in advocacy and appear in court on behalf of their clients. Their work can involve representing clients at all stages of the legal process, from interviewing witnesses and preparing cases for trial to making submissions to the judge or jury. In some jurisdictions, barristers may also provide legal advice to clients outside of court.

Most barristers undertake a period of pupillage after they qualify, during which they shadow experienced practitioners and learn the ropes of courtroom practice. Once they have completed pupillage, they are then able to practise as self-employed barristers.

Barristers can be distinguished from a solicitor because they wear a wig and gown in court. They work at higher levels of court than solicitors and their main role is to act as advocates in legal hearings, which means they stand in court and plead the case on behalf of their clients in front of a judge. They also have specialist knowledge of the law and so are often called on to give legal advice.

Barristers do not come into contact with the public as much as solicitors. They are given details of a case by a solicitor and then have a certain amount of time to review the evidence. Once reviewed, they will prepare themselves and the client for court.

Most barristers are self-employed and work in Chambers with other barristers, so they can share the costs of accommodation and administrators but as discussed, they can now be permitted to be employed by a solicitor’s firm should they wish. 

Solicitor Advocate

The lines between solicitor and barrister blur when a solicitor takes the qualification to become a solicitor advocate.  In recent times more and more  solicitors are undertaking a solicitor advocate course in order to obtain a Higher Rights of Audience qualification.  This additional qualification enables solicitors to carry out advocacy in Court or at a tribunal in a similar way to a barrister. However, specialist barristers are still needed to perform essential work on the more complex cases.

And finally – why the wig?

Barristers wear white wigs to provide anonymity, not in the sense of giving a disguise, but disaffection from personal involvement with the case. The white wigs also confer dignity on proceedings of the court.

This is the same thinking as behind many uniforms – for example, police, army, and nurses – all say “while I am on duty, I put my own feelings aside and represent the law/state/medical system“.